Exchanges Prepare for a Black Friday That’s Expected to See Crowds Return to Stores

Shoppers at the Little Rock AFB Exchange on Black Friday 2019.. After a quieter 2020, stores are expecting a return to larger crowds in 2021,

After a 2020 Black Friday that saw fewer in-store shoppers during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Exchange stores are preparing for crowds to return this year.

“We had a great Veterans Day. That’s a good bellwether for Black Friday,” said Director/CEO Tom Shull. “Customers are coming back.”

Shoppers at the Little Rock AFB Exchange on Black Friday 2019. After a quieter 2020, stores are expecting a return to larger crowds in 2021.

Although restrictions have eased, safety remains important.

“We remain fully nested with DoD guidance and installation command,” Chief Operating Officer Jason Rosenberg said. “We still have hand sanitizers in stores. Our teams are deep-cleaning. All of our protocols are there, but people are feeling a little easier about going out.”

Directorates and stores are focused on keeping shelves stocked, despite industry-wide supply chain disruptions.

“We’re moving things quickly, to ensure customers have the best selection for the holidays.” Chief Merchandising Officer Karen Cardin said. “Stores have been putting merchandise out. Buyers have been following up with suppliers. Logistics has been pushing product through the supply chain.  It has been a team effort to get all the product out there.”

Chief Logistics Officer Karen Stack says communication has been key to preparation for the big day.

“As we watch orders move through the supply chain, MD has been reviewing information and telling us which ones to prioritize,’ Stack said. “We’ve also been putting extra stock into our eComm areas so that we’re ready to support that over the Black Friday weekend.”

At Fort Gordon in Georgia, Main Store Manager Courtney “Page” Clark said all teams are aware of sale items and began organizing Black Friday merchandise by mid-November.

Fort Gordon is among several stores that have recently begun using Theatro, a headset device that allows for immediate communication among store teams. “That has been a great tool,” Clark said. “We’re going to use it to share information with our team and get them pumped up.” (Look for an upcoming story about Theatro in the Exchange Post.)

Dan Enderle, general manager of the Kirtland Air Force Base Exchange in Albuquerque, said his store is also preparing for a larger crowd.

“It’ll be interesting to see the crowd in the brick-and-mortar stores,” Enderle said. “We’ve run through different scenarios as far as the crowd size when the store opens and maintaining social distancing at the registers and key areas in the store.”

Enderle and Clark both said they have loyal curbside and buy online, pickup in store customers, but they expect the in-store traffic to be predominant.

Flordeliza Payton, main store manager at the Okinawa Exchange and the Kadena BX, agreed.

“We expect to see a lot more customer traffic during the holiday season,” she said. “Customers are excited to see a store full of merchandise and are more comfortable shopping.”

Clark said that Fort Gordon will repeat some procedures it used in 2020 to aid in customer safety.

“Last year, instead of having customers back to back, we asked them to grab a shopping cart and keep their distance from one another,” Clark said. “We’re going to continue that this year.”

The Exchange kicked off the holiday shopping season early with the September launch of the 12 Weeks of Black Friday Deals, which runs through Nov. 24. Exchange stores, malls and restaurants will open at 8 a.m. Nov. 26.

 

 

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